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Libya: Justin Trudeau weakened by SNC-Lavalin corruption case

By Arianna Poletti
Posted on Tuesday, 20 August 2019 10:53

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau laughs after being asked a question from the media at the end of a two-day cabinet retreat in Calgary, Alberta, Canada January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Bolin

A Canadian parliamentary report claims Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pressured the country's justice system to avoid taking the Montreal-based multinational construction giant SNC-Lavalin to trial on accusations of fraud and corruption in Libya.

This is yet another episode in the SNC-Lavalin case, accused of paying bribes to family members of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

On Wednesday, 14 August, a report by the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner — who answers to the Canadian parliament — accused Trudeau of breaking the law by attempting to unduly influence former Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould, during legal proceedings against the company. Specifically, Trudeau allegedly tried to convince his minister to “save” the multinational by suspending the trial.

  • According to the report, “Justin Trudeau’s entourage improperly asked the attorney general to consider partisan political interests in this case, which is contrary to constitutional principles.”

It alleges the first contacts “took place in early February 2016, when SNC-Lavalin began lobbying several senior officials, including ministerial staff in the Prime Minister’s Office,” and provides details of ministerial meetings regarding a possible agreement on penalty payments.

Radio-Canada revealed in May, SNC-Lavalin’s “attempt to obtain a suspended prosecution agreement, which would have allowed it to pay a fine rather than be put on trial”, and that the Attorney General had opposed this solution.

Libyan affair threatens the Trudeau government

In February 2015, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) charged the company with fraud and corruption. Since then, the case has been at the heart of a political crisis in Canada, the impact of which could be felt during the elections scheduled for October.

Trudeau defended his position, saying, “Where I disagree is with his [the Commissioner] conclusion that any contact with the attorney general on this issue was necessarily inappropriate,” adding that he was committed to saving thousands of jobs.

  • This is an implicit acknowledgement of contact on this issue, which previously the Prime Minister had denied.
  • In March, he claimed that there was never any “inappropriate pressure” from him on the former justice minister.

In January 2019, however, when Wilson-Raybould denounced the fact that “the corruption of foreign public officials undermines good governance and sustainable economic development”, she was quickly ousted from the government for her comments.

A few days later, Trudeau’s chief advisor Gerald Butts also resigned as did the Budget Minister, citing suspicion of the executive branch interference in the legal proceedings against the engineering giant.

Millions to Gaddafi’s relatives

SNC-Lavalin is charged with corruption and fraud related to a reported €32m paid out to Libyan officials up until 2011. Saadi Gaddafi, the son of the former Libyan leader, invited to Canada several times on sumptuous trips, was reportedly one of the direct beneficiaries of these funds.

  • The multinational reportedly obtained numerous public contracts, including contracts to build the “artificial river” originally desired by Muammar Gaddafi, in exchange for the bribes.

Dragging out the legal proceedings has already had an effect on the case. Since the trial began last October, two executives have benefited from a stay of proceedings: the maximum time limit for a criminal trial, set at 30 months, has been exceeded.

This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.


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